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I am a postdoc researcher (more than five years after PhD) with an average publishing record. I have been contacted by a journal asking me to become part of their editorial board. I am, however, unsure whether I should accept. In particular, the fact that the publisher’s journals are unknown (at least to me), and appear to be of very recent foundation, which may suggest that they could be disreputable or predatory. Also, I am not an established professor, so offering such a role appears somewhat premature. On the other hand, being a board member is a recognized career title (at least where I work). More broadly, I am asking how to evaluate such offers, as I may be contacted again in the future by other publishers.

Other things to consider:

  1. I have searched the publisher's name through Beall's list (although this is less useful now, as it is no longer actively maintained) and other similar sources. Recently, I have received similar requests by publishers who are listed as predatory; of course, I ignored such requests.
  2. I have contacted the only board member whose name I recognized (he is a professor at another university). He confirmed he was a member, but he admitted having accepted mostly as a form of courtesy, as he knew little about them.
  3. Being of very recent foundation, they have a limited online footprint. Only a handful of papers are available on their website; I do not know the authors, and I find it hard to evaluate the quality of said papers, since they are not within my specific field of expertise (although the broader scope of the journal on the whole is compatible with my research).

I am worried that being associated with a predatory publisher may impact my credibility. How should I proceed? Note: I have read this previous discussion, but in this case I have no evidence that the publisher is untrustworthy. This discussion is also relevant, but it appears somewhat outdated. Some suggest contacting the editor in chief, but I do not know them personally.

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  • To clarify my preoccupations: being a member of an Editorial Board is not just a matter of prestige, but also a necessary step in an academic career (at least in my field). At the same time, being invited by top journals appears out of reach unless you are already a professor. My worry is that, if you have never had a presence as an Editor for any journal, it becomes less likely that you will be invited later on, so you have to "start from somewhere" in a sense; however, I may be mistaken on this.
    – GioMott
    Aug 8, 2023 at 7:28
  • Has the board member you contacted said anything about how long they have been in this position and how many papers they handled (I would guess zero)?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Aug 8, 2023 at 11:32
  • @Wrzlprmft that's a very good question that I forgot to ask. Thanks for the suggestion
    – GioMott
    Aug 9, 2023 at 7:07
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    "He confirmed he was a member, but he admitted having accepted mostly as a form of courtesy, as he knew little about them" This is very much how recruiters work on LinkedIn as well. Get a big network, look imposing. That none of the contacts is worth a thing is something a lot of people don't realize.
    – Mast
    Aug 9, 2023 at 14:04
  • Is the journal open access at the expense of the authors (and if so what are their charges?) or is it free to publish there? In the latter case you may want to know who supports them financially but they're quite certainly not predatory. How good is your knowledge of researchers in your field? For me personally a major criterion would be the number and quality of other names on their board. That you know just one doesn't look promising to me. Aug 13, 2023 at 23:30

3 Answers 3

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I'm going to differ from Ethan Bolker and say you should consider it. It's not a concern that you are invited even though you're not a professor, because there's no rule that says only professors can join editorial boards. There is a requirement that you be an expert on your field, and sufficiently senior postdocs will be an expert on their field (I'd even argue that fresh PhD graduates are experts on their field, it's just that "their field" is very narrow so the scope of papers they can handle is also very narrow). Furthermore, as you write, you have no evidence they are untrustworthy. All new journals start by forming an editorial board, which matches what you're seeing.

That said, you should evaluate the offer similarly to how you evaluate offers to collaborate (which is effectively what this is). Things you should figure out:

  • Are they an open access publisher or hybrid (fully subscription publishers are practically non-existent at this point)? If they're publishing subscription content, the chances of them being predatory (in the traditional sense of the word) plummets, arguably to zero. However, the fact that you could read the papers on their website suggests they are open access.
  • What do they expect from you? Are you only handling papers, or are they expecting something else (you to submit papers, represent the journal at conferences, attend editorial board meetings, set the journal's strategy and direction, lead some special issue, etc.)?
  • How many papers do they expect you to handle? You need to know this to estimate how much time commitment is required. If you've never edited before, it can be hard to tell, but get a concrete articles/month number and you can consult a more senior academic to convert that into a time estimate. For new journals it can be extremely hard to provide this estimate (because new journals struggle to get submissions), but you still need an upper limit beyond which you simply cannot spend more time on the journal.
  • How much support do they provide? On one extreme you have publishers which pretty much do everything and expect only a decision from you. On the other extreme you have publishers which expect you to do everything, and they only start getting involved once you decide to accept a paper. Needless to say the latter is much more time-consuming for you, but the peer review process will generally be less controversial because you have direct oversight and you can be expected to do a better job than the publisher.
  • What benefits do they provide you? If you're one editorial board member among many, it's highly unlikely they will pay you a substantial honorarium, but they might offer other benefits (e.g. travel grants, waived APCs).

You also want to evaluate:

  • Who are you talking to? Most probably it's another editorial board member, or an employee of the publisher. In both cases, you could have a serious conversation with them. You could ask them what kind of niche they see the journal occupying, what competitive advantages the journal will have, how they plan to compete with established journals, etc. These are all difficult questions that tell you how serious the journal/publisher is & how experienced the journal leadership will be.
  • In the same vein, if you're talking to an employee of the publisher, you might be able to find out more about them from Google. Another thing would be to see how straight they are with their answers. If they're using vague language & it's unclear if they understand you, then communicating with them in the future could be frustrating.

The point of this is that starting a new high-quality journal is a very difficult thing. If the person you're talking to doesn't realize how much of a challenge it is, then they can't be very experienced with publishing, and there's a high chance the journal will fail. I would be more inclined to decline then. Also, you can email the editor-in-chief even if you don't know them (they will be receiving quite a few emails from people they don't know, asking about the submission process).

Once you have all the information, then you can answer the question: given what they are asking from you and what they offer in return, is it worth taking up the offer? This isn't that dissimilar from an offer to collaborate on some research project - they both take up some of your time and offer something in return. It's up to you to decide if the 'something in return' is worth the time you'll need to invest. If you're still unsure, you could try talking to your postdoc supervisor about it.

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    Aptly put. +1 ... All new journals start by forming an editorial board ... starting a new high-quality journal is a very difficult thing Aug 8, 2023 at 6:09
  • Allure seems to break down OP's request ... I am asking how to evaluate such offers || I'll chip in, also check the content of the invite. Chances are if it's sloppy, the journal might as well be also Aug 8, 2023 at 6:13
  • @semmyk-research the content of the invite seemed average, but with automatic translation these days, style is less reliable as an indicator of seriousness
    – GioMott
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:20
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    @Allure "If they're publishing subscription content, the chances of them being predatory [...] plummets" Possibly OT: why would you say so? I know that most predatory publishers are open-access, but are all of them OA in your experience? Obviously, nobody wants to pay to read rubbish, but being accessible or not isn't really an issue for them (after all, the main role of such journals is simply to publish pretty much anything, no questions asked)
    – GioMott
    Aug 10, 2023 at 14:26
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    @GioMott "nobody wants to pay to read rubbish" is the big issue - you cannot publish "pretty much anything" because you don't get revenue if your content is worthless.
    – Allure
    Aug 12, 2023 at 14:54
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Say no.

I get these "please join our editorial board" invitations all the time.

The (new) journal wants to be able to advertise a significant editorial board.

The journal may or may not be predatory. Doesn't matter.

I think your contact who accepted "as a courtesy" made a mistake.

The position will add nothing useful to your cv.

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  • Thanks for the answer. Essentially, your point of view is that I should not accept any such invitations, unless they come from a journal that is undisputably respected in the field, is that right?
    – GioMott
    Aug 7, 2023 at 17:28
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    Yes, that's what I'd recommend. Until you are yourself better known you probably won't be invited by those journals. If, later in your career you and some colleagues get together to found a new journal to fill a gap then join that board. Aug 7, 2023 at 17:34
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    "I think your contact who accepted "as a courtesy" made a mistake." this is the big point, agreed. Once someone you know is inside, it'll look more reputable, but if it's not a real affiliation (as in this case, since it's only a courtesy), then the effect trickles down like a snowball. "Oh, there is someone I knew, I should join too" without any other substantial reasons (if there are, then that's good, but there are none from the description at the moment).
    – justhalf
    Aug 9, 2023 at 3:17
  • @EthanBolker thanks for the suggestion and for the clarification. Thing is, as noted by user Allure in another answer, "starting a new high-quality journal is a very difficult thing", at least in my field
    – GioMott
    Aug 9, 2023 at 7:09
  • @GioMott "Starting a new journal" was a tongue in cheek way to say "wait until you're established". I'll stick with my advice to say "no thanks". Aug 9, 2023 at 11:33
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The response by @Allure is measured and raises many good points. However, I think that your specific situation is much simpler: if you don't know anything about the journal that offers you a place at the editorial board, don't ever consider the offer seriously. This is why I believe this would be the case:

  • The fact that you don't know the journal tells you immediately that this is either a journal quite far from where you normally read/publish, or a new journal.
  • If this is an established journal outside of your normal reading/publishing circle, just ask yourself, how much would you trust a judgement of someone who entrusts editing responsibilities to a person completely outside of the same reading/publishing circle. It could just be someone very careless, but a more likely explanation would be that this is a publication by a predatory publisher who are in it to make money, not build reputations.
  • If this was a new journal, the situation is a bit similar. Just imagine yourself deciding to create a new journal and trying to get a good team of editors. Would you send cold letters to anyone qualified, or would you try to get people you trust professionally? Even if you are trying to fill a very specific niche that cannot be covered by people you have immediately available, you'd probably attempt finding the right person via your network of contacts and not just send cold letters around.

I also have some good news. It does not matter very much what you do. Getting onto a board of a journal, even if comes from a shady publisher, is not going to damage your reputation. It does look a bit desperate to be on the board of one of these "vanity" journals, or to have such positions shown on your CV, but I often see established researchers on these boards and I've never heard anyone being seriuosly criticized for having these positions. There are two reasons for this:

  • Vanity is a common human trait, and working in academia does not make you immune. This makes predatory publishing possible, but it also means that you would not be judged too harshly.
  • I've seen people making a good job out of such positions, despite all the downsides of a new or a fake journal. Sometimes, people publish good research in all sorts of strange places, for all sorts of reasons, good and bad alike.
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  • Would you send cold letters to anyone qualified, or would you try to get people you trust professionally? Why not both? Especially if you're starting a new journal in a field you are not an expert in, you might not know anyone professionally, in which case you have to start with cold letters to anyone qualified.
    – Allure
    Aug 14, 2023 at 2:07
  • @Allure, "if you're starting a new journal in a field you are not an expert in" - my point exactly!
    – introspec
    Aug 14, 2023 at 20:29
  • @introspec "It does not matter very much what you do" is an interesting take; I was considering this possibility myself
    – GioMott
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:13

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